CASCA 2018 Teachers’ Workshops Report / Rapport sur les Formations pour Enseignants Offertes durant CASCA2018

By / par Julie Bolduc-Duval, Discover the Universe / À la découverte de l’univers
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

La version française suit

As in previous years, CASCA, through Discover the Universe, and CFHT decided to offer a professional development opportunity for local teachers during the CASCA annual meeting. For the first time, two workshops were organized instead of one: a 4-hour evening workshop for elementary/middle school teachers and a full-day workshop for secondary school teachers.

Both workshops were huge successes with good participation and excellent feedback from teachers. A total of 50 teachers participated, with 30 in the elementary workshop and 20 in the secondary workshop.

A few points stand out from the feedback we received. Teachers appreciated:

  • getting many ideas for activities to do with their students;
  • the friendliness and expertise of the speakers;
  • the opportunity to participate in a high-quality free workshop;
  • learning about astronomy knowledge from a local First Nations speaker (for the
    elementary workshop);
  • learning about current astronomy research (for the secondary school workshop).

Some participants even mentioned this had been the best professional development opportunity they ever had the chance to participate in.

While offering two workshops requires more time and energy from our small team and the LOC, as well as a higher budget, it proved to be a very positive change. We were able to adapt the content of the workshops to both levels more appropriately. We hope to continue offering two workshops in the future if the settings and budget allow it.

We wish to thank the LOC for the tremendous help in the logistics organizing the workshop. In particular, we were able to provide free meals to all workshop participants thanks to the fundraising efforts of the LOC and the contribution from CFHT.

Workshop organizing team: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Workshop presenters: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Queen’s University, Belfast)

La CASCA, grâce au programme À la découverte de l’univers, et le Télescope Canada-France- Hawaii ont décidé encore cette année d'offrir des formations en astronomie pour les enseignants locaux lors de la rencontre annuelle CASCA2018. Pour la première fois, deux formations ont été organisées au lieu d'une seule: une formation de quatre heures en soirée pour les enseignants du primaire et une journée entière de formation pour les enseignants du secondaire.

Les deux formations ont été de grands succès avec une bonne participation et une excellente rétroaction des enseignants. Au total, 50 enseignants ont participé, dont 30 au niveau primaire (capacité maximale) et 20 au niveau secondaire.

Quelques points ressortent des commentaires que nous avons reçus. Les enseignants ont

  • obtenir plusieurs idées d'activités à faire avec leurs élèves;
  • l’accessibilité et l'expertise des présentateurs;
  • la possibilité de participer à une formation gratuite de haute qualité;
  • entendre un conférencier autochtone local parler des connaissances astronomiques de sa
    communauté et comment intégrer ces connaissances en classe (niveau primaire);
  • apprendre sur la recherche actuelle en astronomie (niveau secondaire).

Certains participants ont même mentionné que c'était la meilleure formation pour enseignants à laquelle ils avaient eu la chance de participer.

Même si offrir deux formations exige plus de temps et d'énergie de la part de notre petite équipe et du LOC, ainsi qu'un budget plus élevé, cela s'est avéré être un changement très positif. Nous avons été en mesure d'adapter le contenu des formations aux deux niveaux de façon plus appropriée. Nous espérons continuer à offrir deux formations à l'avenir si l’occasion et le budget le permettent.

Nous souhaitons remercier le LOC pour l'aide considérable apportée à la logistique pour l'organisation des formations. En particulier, nous avons pu fournir des repas gratuits à tous les participants grâce aux efforts de collecte de fonds du LOC et à la contribution financière du TCFH.

Équipe d'organisation des formations: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Karun Thanjavur (UVic), Lauri Roche (RASC)

Présentateurs: Julie Bolduc-Duval, Mary Beth Laychak (TCFH), Christa Van Laerhoven (UBC), Pierre Chastenay (UQAM), Nick Claxton (UVic), Michelle Bannister (Université Queen's, Belfast)

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By / par Sarah Gallagher, MSE Science Advisory Group Member
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

As many readers will have heard at CASCA 2018, the MSE collaboration continues its work towards preliminary design starting in 2019. The MSE Management Group has added two institutions from the United States as observers: Texas A&M University and the National Center for Optical-Infrared Astronomy (NCOA). Including recent discussions with Texas A&M, the partnership has identified about half the resources (cash and in-kind contributions) needed for preliminary design, and are discussing possible contributions from NCOA beginning in 2019. The partnership will continue to identify and secure resources while preliminary design activities get underway.

The preliminary design phase will be governed by a Statement of Understanding (SOU) to be signed by the current MSE participants – Canada, France, Hawaii, China, Australia, and India – and endorsed by future participants when they join the project. The MSE SOU specifies the (non-binding) contributions that Canada anticipates providing during preliminary design, and the framework within which participant contributions will be converted into a "Beneficial Interest" in MSE.

As was the case in the early days of the Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) partnership, the Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) has been approached to be the Canadian signatory to the MSE SOU. The ACURA Board is considering this request in recognition of MSE's strong support in the 2010 Long Range Plan and 2016 Mid-Term Review, and the significant role Canadians have played to date in developing the Detailed Science Case. Without a signatory to the MSE SOU, Canada will be downgraded to Observer status and lose voting rights on the MSE Management Group. If you support Canadian involvement in MSE during the preliminary design phase leading up to the next Long Range Plan, contact your institution's ACURA representative and let them know. A slightly dated list of representatives can be found here.

Preparation for CFI Proposal

Ultimately, maintaining a role in MSE will require that Canada make further cash and/or in-kind contributions to the preliminary design phase within the next few years. To support this aim, we are engaged in planning for a CFI proposal submission for the next round (anticipated in 2019). If you are interested in contributing to this effort, the relevant points of contact are Colin Bradley (Victoria Engineering Professor and CFI Project Manager for MSE; Enclosure), Michael Balogh (Waterloo; Low/Medium Resolution Spectrographs), Sarah Gallagher (Western; Software), and Kim Venn (Victoria; Fiber Transport System). Additional industrial partners to support these design components are also needed; sharing your connections would be greatly appreciated. The points of contact can also help develop promising leads for industrial partners.

Status of Science Team Membership

In response to the call for new science team members, the MSE Science Team now has 203 participants, including 31 Canadians from 15 institutions in six provinces. The Project Office is currently organizing team members into Science Working Groups in preparation for Design Reference Survey work that will begin within the next couple of months. If you signed up for the Science Team but have not been receiving e-mails, please contact MSE Project Scientist Alan McConnachie.

MSE Project Scientist Search

After successfully shepherding MSE through the conceptual design process, Alan McConnachie will be stepping down as Project Scientist at the end of 2018, though he will continue his involvement with the Science Team. The Canadian MSE team would like to thank Alan for his excellent leadership during his tenure as Project Scientist. He deserves significant credit for bringing the project to the stage where the external reviewers were « very impressed by the level of sophistication that the MSE project team has brought to this project ». A search for a new Project Scientist is underway.

The MSE website may be accessed here. Questions or comments about MSE governance can be directed to your MSE Management Group Members, Greg Fahlman and Pat Hall. Scientific questions or comments can be directed to your MSE Science Advisory Group Members, Sarah Gallagher and Kim Venn.

Looking Back at the CASCA 2018 Meeting

From / de Karun Thanjavur
(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

18-0452_HAA_CASCA_WEB Banner_ENG_Final
Victoria was the venue of this year’s annual general meeting of the Canadian Astronomical Society (CASCA). CASCA 2018 was co-hosted by the NRC-Herzberg Astronomy & Astrophysics (HAA) and the Dept. of Physics & Astronomy at UVic, with substantial volunteer help from members of the Royal Astronomical Society, Victoria Chapter, and the Friends of the DAO. The meeting ran from 22-26 May at the Victoria Conference Centre, situated in the heart of this scenic city. Victoria was chosen to host the conference this year to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the 1.8m Plaskett Telescope at the Dominion Astrophysical Observatory (DAO) in Victoria. This article summarizes highlights from the various science and centennial sessions, as well as the special events hosted during the conference.

With well over 300 registered participants, this year’s meeting ranked as one of the bigger CASCA meetings on record. The meeting kicked off to a great start with a vibrant graduate students workshop, which included a hands-on exercise on the Gemini Observatory’s Fast Turnaround Program, and an introduction to the high performance computing (HPC) resources for research offered through West Grid/Compute Canada. The afternoon session focussed on networking with industrial partners through a « pechakucha » and rapid fire presentations by the representatives of the industries. The workshop ended with a wine and cheese mixer for the graduates students and the industrial reps, which was then followed by the conference welcome reception for all attendees.

The first day’s proceedings of CASCA 2018 got underway on Wednesday with an eloquent welcome to the Songhees and Esquimalt First Nations territory by Tsawout Elder Victor Underwood. Following this territorial welcome, and in a reciprocal gesture of respect and recognition, astronomer Dave Balam (DAO) presented a plaque to Chief Harvey Underwood of the Tsawaout First Nation (TFN) to commemorate the naming of asteroid 402920 as Asteroid Tsawout (see related Globe and Mail article). Dave named this asteroid that he had discovered in 2007 for the TFN, one of the five bands which constitute the Saanich Nation in the Coast Salish lands. The Plaskett Telescope on Observatory Hill sits on the territorial lands of the Tsawout First Nations and was their winter camp, says Dave. This is the reason he has chosen to name the asteroid for the TFN. The plenary session continued with opening remarks by UVic President Dr. Jamie Cassels and NRC/HAA General Manager, Dr. Greg Fahlman, followed by two very interesting centennial talks. First, Peter Broughton (author of « John Stanley Plaskett – a northern star ») offered a biography of John S. Plaskett after whom the 100 year-old telescope in named. Dennis Crabtree then gave a fitting summary of the many major achievements of the Canadian astronomical community over the past century.

The fully packed conference schedule shows the diversity and depth of the centennial and science sessions, which followed over the next four days of the conference. The more detailed conference program with the titles, authors and abstracts of all the centennial and science sessions has also been posted on the CASCA2018 website, which will remain live for the next year (till May 2019). The centennial sessions were offered as plenary sessions while the science sessions ran as concurrent two and at times three parallel sessions. The over subscription rate for contributed talks was a remarkable 3-to-1 in this conference. It is to the credit of the Science Organizing Committee for having allocated the talks well taking into account gender balance, geographical distribution and other diversity and inclusivity policies adopted by CASCA. In addition to these science sessions, teachers workshops (both elementary and secondary schools) were also organized and very successfully run by Julie Bolduc-Duval (Discover the Universe) and Mary Beth Laychak (CFHT) with assistance from other members of the CASCA Education and Public Outreach committee. Of special note was a presentation on the traditional knowledge of the First Peoples regarding the thirteen phases of the Moon given by Dr. Nick Claxton, an indigenous educator from the UVic education department.

Related to education and public outreach (EPO), we were fortunate to have had a moving yet very powerful message from Elder Dr. Barney Williams of the Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation on the role of education in reconciliation. As a survivor of the residential school system, he was eminently suited to eloquently warn us of the dangers of racial superiority, and to turn the horrors of his own childhood experiences into a message of hope toward reconciliation and mutual respect amongst all peoples based on education.

Several special events were offered during the course of the conference. On the first day, Bob McDonald (CBC Radio, Quirks and Quarks) gave an excellent and well attended public lecture, intriguingly titled « What if everything you know is wrong? ». The conference banquet marked the end of the second day. Held at the Royal BC Museum, the atypical banquet was set up as a series of food stations featuring various cuisines distributed throughout the permanent exhibits of the First Nations and the city of Victoria. Judging by the feedback from participants later, the intention to encourage the conference participants to walk around and mingle during the banquet worked well. On Friday evening, the DAO centennial celebration was held with a special cake (shaped expertly as the Plaskett observatory), dome tours, public lectures and an open house of the Centre of the Universe. The skies too cooperated well and the 200+ attendees were able to enjoy viewing Venus and Jupiter through the RASC 16″ telescope.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, circa 1915.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The Plaskett telescope, today.

The meeting was a huge success judging by the verbal feedback of many participants. Our sincere thanks go to all members of the LOC and to many volunteers for their contributions and to all our sponsors (shown on the CASCA 2018 website) for their generous financial support. We now look forward to the next annual general meeting hosted by McGill University in Montreal June 17 – 20, 2019.

SPICA Update

From / de David Naylor, SPICA Canadian HoN and Co-I, University of Lethbridge
and / et Doug Johnstone, SPICA Science Team, NRC-Herzberg

(Cassiopeia – Summer / été 2018)

SPICA Satellite

SPICA Satellite

On 7 th May 2018, SPICA was selected by the European Space Agency (ESA) as one of three candidate missions to be studied in parallel over the next three years in preparation for a final 2021 down-select for ESA’s fifth medium class mission in its Cosmic Vision science programme. If successful in the 2021 down-select, SPICA would be built to launch around 2030. SPICA is a joint European-Japanese project that offers significant gains in far-infrared spectroscopic and survey capabilities. Detailed information about SPICA and its three instruments can be found here and here.

Canada was a founding member of the SPICA/SAFARI consortium and through its contributions over the last decade is now positioned to build the mission critical high resolution polarizing Fourier transform spectrometer (Martin-Puplett Interferometer – MPI) for the SAFARI instrument. This MPI builds on Canada’s contribution to the Herschel/SPIRE instrument and was recognized by the SAFARI consortium as an area of excellence both in Canadian academia and industry. The return from this investment to the Canadian astronomical community will be several times more than that awarded to the Canadian Herschel/SPIRE team. Herschel was, of course, an amazing success, in part due to the significant contributions from the Canadian scientists involved. Indeed, the recent success of SPICA is regarded by many as a direct result of the success of Herschel.

As stated in the SPICA Press Release that accompanied its ESA selection:

“The promise of SPICA is made possible by the combination of a number of significant innovations. A key component is the use of a large 2.5 metre diameter telescope that is cooled to almost 270 degrees below zero, to reduce the background radiation emitted by the telescope itself to the absolute minimum. With such a low background the extremely sensitive Transition Edge Sensors (TES), developed both in the Netherlands at SRON as well as in partner institutes in the UK and the US, can be used to their full potential. The combination of the cold telescope and the ultrasensitive detectors will make SPICA the most sensitive observatory in the mid- and far-infrared ever – with this extreme sensitivity the SPICA instruments will be able to take the spectral fingerprints of objects out to the farthest reaches of the universe.

The observatory will have three instruments covering the full mid- and far-infrared, the wavelength domain between 12 and 350 microns. A combined mid-infrared camera and spectrometer will be provided by a large Japanese consortium led by the University of Nagoya, a French-led European consortium will build a compact imaging polarimeter, and a large SRON-led international consortium will design and implement the largest and most complex instrument, the far-infrared spectrometer SAFARI.

SPICA will be used by the world-wide astronomical community. As is the custom for other great ground based and space observatories all astronomers can propose observations. A panel of independent specialists will rate the proposals according to their scientific quality and determine if and how much time will be awarded for the observations. Proposers will have about a year proprietary access to the measurement, after that period the data are made public to be used by anyone that is interested.”

David Naylor and Doug Johnstone attended the SPICA/SAFARI consortium meeting in Groningen at the end of May, where they were able to partake in the celebration of this significant milestone and actively engage in discussions around the critical paths forward. David Naylor provided an extremely well received report on the progress of the Canadian SAFARI instrument activities. Doug Johnstone also provided an update on the science case for time-domain research with SPICA.

In order to promote the science capabilities of SPICA and build additional enthusiasm and support amongst the international research community, there will be a dedicated international science conference next year on the island of Crete, « Exploring the Infrared Universe: The Promise of SPICA », 20-23 May 2019. While the project is still over a decade away, the next three years are pivotal in defining the instrumental requirements and observing modes, and we strongly encourage Canadian participation at this meeting.

The recent success of SPICA at ESA in Europe and the strong support for SPICA at JAXA in Japan bodes well for the mission. Canadian astronomers wishing to become more active with SPICA science should contact David Naylor or Doug Johnstone in order to be added to the Canadian SPICA mailing list and/or to be put in contact with like-minded researchers within the SPICA consortium.

Square Kilometre Array (SKA) Update

By/par Bryan Gaensler, Canadian SKA Science Director
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

For more information on the SKA, subscribe to the Canadian SKA email list by sending a blank email to, and visit the Canadian SKA WWW site.

International SKA Update

Canada is one of 10 member countries of the SKA Organisation, and is represented on the SKA Board of Directors by Greg Fahlman (NRC) and Bryan Gaensler (University of Toronto). The SKA Board met most recently in October 2017 via videoconference, and in November 2017 in Bologna. The SKA Board’s Executive Committee (of which Bryan Gaensler is a member) meets monthly.

Notable outcomes from these meetings have included:

  • Appointment of Dr Catherine Cesarky (former Director General of ESO) as the new chair of the SKA Board.
  • Assessment of the “Deployment Baseline” for SKA1, which corresponds to the telescopes currently deliverable at a funding level of €674M (2016 euros). The SKA Board has expressed confidence that the current Deployment Baseline will provide transformational science capabilities. Furthermore, re-instatement of the omitted capabilities, up to the full restoration of the Design Baseline, is planned, either during or after the construction phase, should additional funding become available. Ongoing cost oversight will take place within the SKA Office’s regular activities. The Board now looks to the science community, and particularly to the SKA Science and Engineering Advisory Committee (SEAC) to regularly review the Deployment Baseline and to confirm its ability to deliver transformational science. Prof Kristine Spekkens from the Royal Military College of Canada is a member of the SEAC.
  • Review of the upcoming suite of critical design reviews (CDRs) and subsequent CDR closures, which will take place from April 2018 to March 2019.
  • Reports on site activity in South Africa and Australia. In South Africa, a major milestone has been reached with the completion of land acquisition in the SKA core in the Karoo. The MeerKAT project remains on track to have a 64-antenna array ready to commence large survey project science at the beginning of April 2018. In Australia, the Heritage Agreement with the Wajarri Yamatji traditional owners, which will allow land surveys and low impact activities to proceed, is expected to be signed soon. The Murchison Radio-astronomy Observatory’s solar/battery power station is now operational.
  • Discussion of planning for SKA Science Processing Centres and science archives.
  • The issuance of a non-binding “request for information” (RfI), distributed to parties interested in participating in SKA procurement.
  • Planning for transition of the SKA Organisation into an Intergovernmental Organisation (IGO), including plans to establish a Transition Oversight Committee, to co-ordinate transition activities between the Board and the Convention Preparatory Task Force (CPTF). The CPTF will be formally established after the signing of the Square Kilometre Array Observatory Convention and will represent the interests of the IGO until the SKA Observatory Council is formed. Currently, the Convention is expected to be signed in September 2018.
  • Discussion on plans for SKA1 construction.
  • Ongoing updates from France, Germany, Portugal, Japan, Korea, Spain and Switzerland on their SKA-related activities and on their potential interest in participating in the SKA project.
  • Discussion with NRAO on the relationship between the SKA and planning for future US Radio Astronomy facilities.
  • Approval of an SKA Code of Ethics and Whistleblowing Policy.
  • Ongoing discussion of finances, engineering reports, business development, communications, governance, operations, and construction of the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank.

Upcoming SKA Board meetings will be in April 2018 (Sweden), July 2018 (South Africa) and November 2018 (United Kingdom). Meetings of the SKA Members (i.e., the funding agencies; currently Greg Fahlman represents NRC) will take place immediately preceding each of these Board meetings.

For further information on international SKA activities, see the latest SKA Newsletter and the bi-monthly SKA Organisation Bulletin.

Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy

The Canada Foundation for Innovation has awarded $9.4M (including provincial and other matches) to the project “Unlocking the Radio Sky with Next-Generation Survey Astronomy”, led by Bryan Gaensler. This has led to the creation of the Canadian Initiative for Radio Astronomy Data Analysis (CIRADA), a program to develop the tools and infrastructure needed to support a Canadian SKA Data Centre, with direct application to the VLA, CHIME and ASKAP. Technical staff are already being appointed to CIRADA, and the project will formally commence in April 2018.

SKA Science and Science Engagement

The meeting « Canadian Radio Astronomy: Surveying the Present and Shaping the Future » was held in Montreal in September 2017. See here for copies of presentations from the meeting, and here for a summary of the meeting published in Nature Astronomy.

Canadian astronomers continue to participate in almost all SKA science working groups. The working groups on transients, pulsars, the Milky Way and the cradle of life are all currently chaired by Canadians (Michael Rupen, Ingrid Stairs, Erik Rosolowsky and Doug Johnstone, respectively). An SKA lunch event will be held on May 24, 2018 at the CASCA annual meeting in Victoria. The next SKA General Science Meeting and Key Science Project Workshop will take place at the new SKA Headquarters at Jodrell Bank over September 3–7, 2018.

The Murchison Widefield Array (MWA) is the precursor of SKA-Low and is a powerful science facility in its own right (see MWA for details). MWA phase 2, which improves the sensitivity of the array by an order of magnitude, is now operating. Canada, through the University of Toronto, is a full member of the MWA project, with representation on the MWA Board. Any Canadian astronomers wishing to join the MWA Consortium and to consequently gain access to MWA data, software tools and science collaborations should contact Bryan Gaensler.

The SKA project maintains 11 international science working groups and another 2 focus groups. Membership of science working groups and focus groups is open to all qualified astronomers. If you are interested in joining one of these groups, please contact Bryan Gaensler.

ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA

The Association of Canadian Universities for Research in Astronomy (ACURA) coordinates activities and discussion on the SKA through the ACURA Advisory Council on the SKA (AACS); see here for a listing of AACS membership. AACS meets several times per year, with its next meeting on April 26, 2018. For further information or to propose AACS agenda items, please contact the AACS Chair, Bryan Gaensler.

SKA Technology Development

NRC Herzberg continues to be a major participant in pre-construction efforts for the SKA, principally through NRC leadership of the Central Signal Processing consortium and their contractor MDA, and also through NRC participation in the DISH and Telescope Manager design work.

A new frequency slice architecture has also been developed for the Mid-Frequency Correlator/Beamformer (MID.CBF). This has now been formally accepted as the MID.CBF reference design, and has resulted in €20M in cost reductions. The overall CSP design is highly scalable, with a plan for a technology refresh and addition of enhanced capabilities within the first 5-10 years of operations. Detailed design documents have now been submitted for review, and preparations are now taking place for the CSP critical design review. The five sub-elements of the CSP program are now undergoing critical design reviews, and the element review for the overall CSP program will occur in June 2018. Discussion has commended on plans for beyond CDR, including a bridging plan and then construction.

Report from LRPIC

From/de John Hutchings
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

The LRPIC continues to confer regularly, and follow new developments. Some of these are reported separately in this issue. Of particular interest in the federal budget, we noted the increased funding to discovery-based research is very welcome and an important element of our LRP. However, like many, we are disappointed in the lack of mention of CSA and its lack of a viable space science budget. We have sent a memo to the Space Advisory Board urging that they continue to press this issue. We also note the Globe and Mail article that reflects this well.

The issue of the future of WFIRST and possible Canadian participation remains in flux, and we are working to see that the best interests of Canadian astronomers are served.

ALMA Matters


From/de Gerald Schieven
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

Cycle 6 Call for Proposals

The Call for Proposals for ALMA Cycle 6 (Oct 2018 through Sept 2019) was issued on 20 March. The deadline for proposals will be 15:00UT on Thursday 19 April. A few new capabilities include circular polarization, stand-alone projects using the Norita ALMA Compact Array (ACA) at Bands 3 through 8, and more time available for science. See the Proposer’s Guide on the ALMA science portal for a full list of the Cycle 6 capabilities. The Millimetre Astronomy Group at NRC Herzberg, which acts as the Canadian node of the North American Regional Center, is available to provide assistance with proposing as well as data reduction. Contact Gerald Schieven for more information.

BRITE-Constellation Mission Update

By/par Gregg Wade, Canadian PI for BRITE
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)


BRITE-Constellation is an international space astronomy mission consisting of a fleet of 20x20x20 cm nanosatellites dedicated to precision optical photometry of bright stars in two photometric colours. The mission continues in full science operations, with 22 data releases to BRITE target PIs having already taken place, and many datasets available in the public domain from the BRITE public archive.

The BRITE mission is a collaboration between Canadian, Austrian and Polish astronomers and space scientists. The Canadian partners represent University of Toronto, Université de Montréal, Bishop’s University, and Royal Military College of Canada. The mission was built, and the Canadian satellites operated by, the University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies Space Flight Lab (UTIAS-SFL). The Canadian Space Agency funded the construction of the Canadian satellites. Recent approval of continued operations funding of BRITE-Toronto by CSA will ensure the Canadian mission until at least January 2019.


There are five operating BRITE satellites in the Constellation, collecting data on various sky fields in a coordinated programme to obtain well-sampled, longterm continuous (~6 months) light curves in both red and blue bandpasses.

As this issue of Cassiopeia went to press, here was the status of the sky assignments for the BRITE cubesats:

  • BRITE Toronto (Canada): Toronto observes with a red filter. It is currently observing the Carina II field. As implied by the numeral ‘II’, the current campaign on Carina represents a revisit of a previously-observed field.
  • BRITE Lem (Poland): Lem observes with a blue filter. It is observing the Centaurus II field.
  • BRITE Heweliusz (Poland): Heweliusz observes with a red filter. This satellite is observing Vela/Pictoris III field.
  • BRITE Austria (Austria): BRITE Austria observes with a blue filter. It is observing the Vela/Puppis IV and the Centaurus II fields, switching between the two fields each orbit.
  • UniBRITE (Austria): UniBRITE observes with a red filter. This satellite is also currently observing the Vela/Puppis IV and the Centaurus II fields.

The BRITE Constellation observing programme from early 2017 through early 2019 has been planned by the BRITE Executive Science Team (BEST), and details are available on the BRITE photometry Wiki page.

Recent Science Results

Light curves of η Car observed by BRITE in 2016 (left) and 2017 (right). The data points are solid circles (•; BTr), plus signs (+; UBr), and open diamonds (♦; BHr) with the two-frequency fit shown in red. Each panel shows 180 d of time on the abscissa, with nearly 180 d between the two panels. A typical 2 mmag error bar (2σ) are shown in the lower left part of the panels. From Richardson et al. (2018).

Light curves of η Car observed by BRITE in 2016 (left) and 2017 (right). The data points are solid circles (•; BTr), plus signs (+; UBr), and open diamonds (♦; BHr) with the two-frequency fit shown in red. Each panel shows 180 d of time on the abscissa, with nearly 180 d between the two panels. A typical 2 mmag error bar (2σ) are shown in the lower left part of the panels. From Richardson et al. (2018).

BRITE-Constellation reveals evidence for pulsations in the enigmatic binary η Carinae” (Richardson et al. 2018, MNRAS 475, 5417):
η Car is a massive, eccentric binary with a rich observational history. Richardson et al. report the first high-cadence, high-precision light curves obtained with the BRITE-Constellation nanosatellites over 6 months in 2016 and 6 months in 2017. The light curve is contaminated by several sources including the Homunculus nebula and neighbouring stars, including the eclipsing binary CPD -59°2628. However, they find two coherent oscillations in the light curve. These may represent pulsations that are not yet understood but they postulate are related to tidally excited oscillations of η Car’s primary star, and would be similar to those detected in lower mass eccentric binaries. In particular, one frequency was previously detected by van Genderen et al. and Sterken et al. through the time period of 1974-1995 via timing measurements of photometric maxima. Thus, this frequency seems to have been detected for nearly four decades, indicating that it has been stable in frequency over this time span. These pulsations could help provide the first direct constraints on the fundamental parameters of the primary star if confirmed and refined with future observations.

Conferences, Resources and Social Media


The proceedings of the second BRITE Science Conference – held in Innsbruck, Austria in 2016 – are available in printed form and online.


The BRITE Public Data Archive, based in Warsaw, Poland, at the Nikolaus Copernicus Astronomical Centre, can be accessed at

The mission Wiki (including information on past, current and future fields) can be accessed at

BRITE Constellation is now on Facebook, at @briteconstellation.

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team

The BRITE International Advisory Science Team (BIAST), which consists of BRITE scientific PIs, technical authorities, amateur astronomers, and mission fans, advises the mission executive on scientific and outreach aspects of the mission. If you’re interested to join BIAST, contact Canadian BRITE PI Gregg Wade:

Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer (MSE) Update

By/par Patrick Hall, MSE Management Group Chair
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

Successful Systems Conceptual Design Review

The Maunakea Spectroscopic Explorer project completed a very successful Systems Conceptual Design Review in January 2018. An external review panel chaired by Michael Strauss (Princeton) delivered a report which stated, in part: « the bottom line is that this project is in very good shape, and at an appropriate level of maturity for the end of the Conceptual Design phase. We have been very impressed by the level of sophistication that the MSE project team has brought to this project, and the tremendous amount of hard work that has been carried out thus far. This level of professionalism bodes well for the project as it enters the preliminary design phase. » For more details, see this link.

Into the Preliminary Design Phase

To publicize the upcoming preliminary design phase of MSE to existing and potential new partners, the Project Office has produced a four-page MSE brochure and a twenty-page MSE Prospectus. Hardcopies are available by contacting Mary Beth Laychak.

Development is also underway on a 100-page MSE Project Book describing the detailed technical development of the MSE observatory. The Project Book is intended to be a companion of the Prospectus to provide technical information of MSE to those who want to know more regarding potential engineering contributions. The Management Group is actively discussing the distribution of preliminary design phase work packages among existing and potential new partners in the 2019-2020 time frame.

To bring MSE opportunities to the attention of potential new partners, meetings related to wide-field spectroscopy and US decadal survey planning are being attended by Project Office staff including Kei Szeto (Project Manager) and Alan McConnachie (Project Scientist), as well as by MG Chair Pat Hall.

In particular, many members of the US community present at the just-concluded SnowPAC conference ‘Big Questions, Big Surveys, Big Data: Astronomy & Cosmology in the 2020s’ expressed great interest in the science that the MSE project will enable by the late 2020s. Six talks on various aspects of the current status of the MSE project were presented at SnowPAC; they can be viewed in PDF form via the Contributed Talks button on the SnowPAC website.

Project Office staff will also be visiting China in May, and will have a strong presence at the SPIE Astronomical Telescopes and Instrumentation meeting in Austin in June.

As the preliminary design phase ramps up, Kei Szeto is succeeding Rick Murowinski as Project Manager, allowing Rick to focus on engineering work for the Project Office. The MSE collaboration is grateful to Rick for his invaluable contributions during conceptual design.

Science Team Membership for the Design Reference Survey

As you may have seen on the CASCA E-mail exploder, a major science development phase for MSE will occur in 2018. The international MSE science team will develop the first phase of the MSE Design Reference Survey (DRS). The DRS is planned as a 2 year observing campaign that will demonstrate the science impact of MSE in a broad range of science areas and will provide an excellent dataset for community science. It will describe and simulate an executable survey plan that addresses the key science described in the Detailed Science Case. The DRS will naturally undergo several iterations between now and first light of MSE: this first phase (nicknamed DRS1) will set the foundation for its future development.

DRS1 will be supported by the Project Office and will use various simulation tools, including Integration Time Calculators, fiber-assigning software, and a telescope scheduler. It is anticipated that a future iteration of the DRS will become the first observing program on MSE come first light of the facility, and the DRS will be used by the Project Office going forward to understand the consequences for science for all decisions relating to the engineering and operational development of MSE.

To join the Science Team, please contact your MSE Science Advisory Group representatives, Kim Venn or Sarah Gallagher. More information about the development of the DRS and how to participate will be circulated to the members of the MSE Science Team in April/May 2018.

CASCA 2018

There will be an informal face-to-face MSE gathering at CASCA in Victoria in May; details to follow. Hope to see you there!

The MSE website is Questions or comments about MSE governance can be directed to your MSE Management Group Members, Greg Fahlman and Pat Hall. Scientific questions or comments can be directed to your MSE Science Advisory Group Members, Sarah Gallagher and Kim Venn.

CATAC Update on the Thirty Meter Telescope

By Michael Balogh, CATAC Chair
(Cassiopeia – Spring/printemps 2018)

The Wide Field Optical Spectrograph (WFOS) first-light instrument on TMT is expected to be a workhorse instrument that will appeal broadly to many in the Canadian community. This has proven to be a challenging instrument to design to requirements, and in the coming few weeks three different designs will be undergoing a technical and cost review process. CATAC has been working to understand these designs and gather input so we can present advice that reflects the needs of Canadian astronomers.

There are currently three compelling designs being considered:

  1. Fiber-WFOS: A fiber spectrograph that achieves a multiplicity of ~700 targets with R=5000 and full wavelength coverage, over a 79 square arcminute field of view. The challenge here is in achieving the necessary precision in sky subtraction and calibration, especially for faint objects at wavelengths redward of ~0.7 microns. There is no direct imaging mode, and the spectral resolution and angular sampling of each fiber is fixed. However, fibers can be bundled together to form multiple deployable IFUs. System throughput may be compromised in the near-UV and at wavelengths longward of ~0.9 microns.
  2. Slicer-WFOS: This design is an imaging spectrograph that uses image slicers to reduce the physical slit width to achieve R=5000, maintaining full spectral coverage from 310nm to 1000nm, but with a lower multiplicity of 33 over a 25 square arcminute field of view. The notional design for this option does not include imaging, although it likely could be added. The deployment of the slicer modules has been identified as a challenging operational issue.
  3. Xchange-WFOS: This is an imaging spectrograph with an object multiplicity of about 100 at resolution of R=5000, again over a 25 square arcminute field of view. Simultaneous coverage of the full wavelength range is not possible, but there is flexibility in using multiple gratings to achieve different resolutions. In terms of operational use, this design is most similar to multi-object spectrographs such as GMOS. Objects are placed on slits, using masks that are designed and cut for individual fields. Xchange-WFOS has an imaging capability. Like GMOS, there is also the option of adding an IFU.

All three designs have strong advantages and are exciting concepts; there are also technical and scientific trade-offs to be considered. The technical risks associated with all designs are being assessed by a committee that will advise the Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) over the next couple of weeks. The SAC itself will meet April 9-10, 2018, and one of their tasks at that meeting will likely be to recommend proceeding with one or more of these three designs.

Scientifically, at a high level we might consider fiber-WFOS as best suited for “survey science”, where large samples of targets with a high density on the sky are gathered over large areas. On the other hand, the slicer- and Xchange-WFOS designs may be better suited for diagnostic spectroscopy: smaller samples of precision spectroscopy. But even this is an overly reductive description of capabilities.

CATAC needs to hear from you to provide appropriate advice. Some specific questions are:

  • How do you imagine you (or your immediate descendants!) using WFOS in 2028? Are the sample sizes, target densities, and S/N or resolution requirements better achievable with one design or another? Are there science programs where you feel that MOS with slits would be advantageous compared to fibers?
  • What spectral resolution or resolutions do you need for your science? If you could choose only one resolution, what would it be? Would it be acceptable to trade resolution against spectral coverage if the former were user-selectable?
  • What wavelength coverage is most important for your science? Is there a need for coverage with maximum throughput between 0.3 – 0.4 microns, or at wavelengths longer than 0.9 microns? Is there an advantage of simultaneous coverage, or is it sufficient to use multiple settings?
  • Is there a scientific need for seeing-limited (perhaps GLAO-assisted) imaging at visible – near-infrared wavelengths?

To help answer these questions we will be holding a public Webex meeting in advance of the April SAC meeting. Additional documentation describing the three instrument concepts will be made available, as possible, in the coming days via our website. We hope many of you will be able to attend, and/or send us your comments by email.

In other news, we await decision of the site selection. Disappointingly, the site permit for the ORM site in the Canary Islands has not yet been approved. There does not appear to be any fundamental obstacle to this permit, it is just taking longer than expected. In Hawai’i the political situation continues to change in a direction that is favourable to TMT construction. There are still two appeals in front of the Hawaii Supreme Court. One of them is being heard right now, and decisions on both are expected later this year. The good news is that the project continues to move forward in construction and design, with about 15 percent of the construction of components complete.